Fay, Annie Eva (ca. 1855–1927)
Famous American medium who demonstrated on the theatrical
stage, where she produced phenomena quite similar to
that of the Davenport brothers. Born as Anna Eva Heathman
in Southington, Ohio, she was driven from home by her stepmother.
She gave her first exhibition in an old schoolhouse in
Ohio. Her first husband, Henry Cummings Melville Fay, had
been denounced as a fraud by Spiritualists, and his appearance
on the stage with Annie Fay immediately threw doubt on the
authenticity of Annie’s performance, billed as ‘‘The Indescribable
Phenomenon.’’
Her public performances in London in 1874 at the Crystal
Palace aroused the interest of researcher Sir William Crookes,
who was then finishing a series of tests on the mediumship of
Florence Cook. The phenomena involved the movement of objects
and playing of musical instruments in the dark. Annie Fay
was tested by Crookes at his house in London in February 1875.
Crookes had Fay hold two electrodes in an electrical circuit
connected with a galvanometer in an adjoining room, which indicated
any variation in the medium’s grip. Under these circumstances,
a heavy musical box was moved across the room,
opened, wound up, started, and stopped again. A handbell was
rung, and a hand holding it was thrust through a curtained
doorway into the laboratory, where the bell dropped in full
view. Crookes’s locked bureau was opened, odd things were
placed on it, and all the drawers were opened. Crookes was
convinced that his electrical control was not broken. An account
of the experiment was published in the Medium (March 12,
1875).
An exposure of the Fay stage séances was published in the
New York Daily Graphic (April 12, 1876), based on material supplied
by Washington Irving Bishop, who had been a member
of the Fay troupe and was later dismissed. Bishop demonstrated
the methods by which Fay worked her marvelous feats,
which required some difficult but very natural physical exertions.
Later both Fay and Bishop were satirized under the
names ‘‘Evalina Gray’’ and ‘‘W. S. Bischoff’’ in the 1877 novel
The Spiritualists and the Detectives by private detective Allan Pinkerton.
The exposures did little to slow Fay, who continued to
travel as a performer working on the border between stage
magic and Spiritualism.
Annie Fay’s son John Truesdale Fay (born in Ohio in 1877)
traveled with his mother’s show and was suspected of assisting
with ‘‘manifestations’’ while hidden under Annie’s dress. In
1881 Annie married David H. Pingree, who promoted her performances,
which included a stage clairvoyant act called ‘‘Somnolency,’’
now known to have been an ingenious trick.
Some confusion has been caused by the fact that Annie’s son
John married Anna Norman in 1898 and taught his wife the
same stage clairvoyance act, which they performed together as
‘‘The Fays.’’ Earlier, another American stage performer using
the name ‘‘Annie Fay’’ had copied the ‘‘Indescribable Phenomenon’’
act.
In her later years, Annie Fay made money answering letters
by mail, in addition to continuing her stage appearances. In
1913 she was honored by the famous conjurer’s association The
Magic Circle in London, which elected her first honorary lady
associate. She continued to draw large crowds for her stage
shows until an accident in 1924 in Milwaukee, after which she
retired.
The great Houdini claimed that she told him how she had
tricked Crookes during his experiments in London by holding
a handle with one hand and gripping the other with the bare
flesh under her knee, thus enabling her to produce raps and
play musical instruments. Fay died May 20, 1927.
Sources
Christoper, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics and the Occult. New
York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.